The Obama campaign’s response shows that they recognize the potentially politically grave consequences of the president’s moment of self-revelation. Among other things, the campaign is vociferously claiming in an ad that the president never said any such thing (commendably bold, when you consider that the entire speech is easily available on the internet).
Showing just how devastating the president’s words potentially are to a second term, Jonathan Chait resorted to the all-purpose liberal shut up: it is racist to criticize President Obama’s anti-business tirade. Chait wrote about the speech and the reaction in New York magazine:
The key thing is that Obama is angry, and he’s talking not in his normal voice but in a “black dialect.” This strikes at the core of Obama’s entire political identity: a soft-spoken, reasonable African-American with a Kansas accent. From the moment he stepped onto the national stage, Obama’s deepest political fear was being seen as a “traditional” black politician, one who was demanding redistribution from white America on behalf of his fellow African-Americans.
Senator John McCain most likely would have been buffaloed by the racist ruse. The “You didn’t build that” speech would have been declared off limits. Romney, whose campaign drove veteran politician Newt Gingrich crazy, probably won’t. Indeed, the Chait claim that talk about the Roanoke speech is racist may mark the official moment at which the racism charge jumped the shark. Chait’s ludicrous column is provoking more mirth than the usual fear and trembling at the prospect of being (unfairly) dubbed a racist.
There will come a moment in the presidential debates when Mitt Romney and the president can go head to head on the meaning of Roanoke. I hope Romney is practicing for this great opportunity. I would suggest that, when the president says his words were twisted, or that Romney took them out of context, Romney give viewers a website where they can listen to the whole speech. This can’t be delivered in the usual go-to-my website toss-off of a politician who can’t be bothered to tell you himself. It has to be done just right to convey the idea that the Roanoke speech is the key to decoding President Obama.
If you know that this is what the president believes, the rest falls in place: his incessant calls for higher taxation on “millionaires and billionaires,” the stagnation of business in the U.S. under Obama, and, most of all, the 8.2 unemployment rate.